|By Mark Morales-Smith, Tuesday, July 8, 2014|
QB Ben Roethlisberger - Quality Backup
At the age of 32, Big Ben is coming off one of his best fantasy seasons. Roethlisberger threw for 4,261 yards and 29 TDs. He attempted the most passes of his career last season by more than 70 attempts. This stat could take a drastic downward turn in 2014. The Steelers allowed Roethlisberger's second and third receivers (Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, respectively) to walk via free agency in favor of an aging Lance Moore and promising, yet still unproven talents Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Pittsburgh will also have a healthy Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in the backfield to help them get back to Steelers' smash-mouth football. Roethlisberger was sacked 42 times and turned the ball over 20 times. The offensive line must better protect him. In spite of the questions with the offense, the former Miami of Ohio QB is still a seasoned veteran with two Super Bowl rings on his hand. His fantasy value has been underrated his whole career. He knows how to make something out of nothing and get the job done. It also helps to have budding superstar Antonio Brown at his disposal. The duo connected for 110 receptions in 2013. If healthy, Roethlisberger can be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
QB Bruce Gradkowski - Not Draft Worthy
Gradkowski is a career backup and journeymen quarterback who saw his most playing time with Oakland Raiders in 2009 and 2010. He is a very serviceable backup, but he will not outplay Big Ben like he did JaMarcus Russell and Jason Campbell in Oakland. Gradkowski's only hope at playing time is an injury to Roethlisberger or garbage time. Even if Gradkowski does get a shot to start, he would be nothing more than an emergency replacement in the deepest of formats.
RB Le'Veon Bell - Stud (low risk)
SECOND-YEAR STAR: Former Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell is a workhorse who will be asked to carry the majority of the workload in Pittsburgh. Bell was hindered early last year with a foot injury. Regardless of that, he proved to be durable over his college career. The Steelers historically love this type of back and have been searching for him since the departure of Rashard Mendenhall. Bell is coveted RB1 and will be drafted and started in all formats. Don't be surprised if he is a Top 5 back in 2014 due to his strengths both on the ground and via the pass. This every-down potential buoys his fantasy value and ensures he is a safe choice in the back half of the first or early in the second round.
Editor's note: The signing of and presence of Blount is a reasonable concern, especially after the former Oregon Ducks runner went nuts last postseason by rushing for 166 yards and four TDs against the Colts. A better way to look at it is that Pittsburgh needed to protect their investment in Bell. Blount can immediately come in, absorb about five to eight carries per game and give Bell a breather. Without Blount, the backfield's depth chart would be a whole lot more flimsy.
RB LeGarrette Blount - Fantasy Handcuff
Blount has performed well when given limited opportunities. His rookie season in Tampa was a great success. In 13 games Blount rushed for over 1,000 yards and averaged five yards a carry. Blount appeared to be the Bucs' back of the future, but that wasn't the case. In 2011 Blount dealt with a knee injury that cost him two games, and seemed to linger for most of the season. Set to bounce-back in 2012, Blount found himself in rookie head coach Greg Schiano's dog house. Doug Martin took over from there, limiting Blount to 41 carries. The following offseason, he was traded to New England. In 2013, Blount performed very well. In a very crowded backfield, Blount averaged five yards a carry, and punched in seven touchdowns. Now on yet another team, he must prove himself once again. Blount will be the No. 2 back in Pittsburgh behind second-year man Le'Veon Bell. Blount will most likely get limited touches in his new role. His running style appears to be a great fit in Pittsburgh and he should succeed in coming in occasionally in the second-half to further wear down defenses. If you own Bell, Blount is a desirable handcuff with enough talent to be worth the occasional start if he ever needs to start a game or two.
WR Antonio Brown - Stud (low risk)
Antonio Brown was a dominant force last season. He finished second in both receptions (110) and receiving yards (1,499). Brown is locked in as a Top 5 fantasy receiver, particularly in PPR formats. Believe it or not, Brown may be even more of a focal point for the Steelers' passing game due to the departure of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Aside from tight end Heath Miller, Brown will be the only pass-catcher on the team that has proven chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. Markus Wheaton leads the pack to assume the No. 2 role. If he doesn't perform up to expectations, even more of the offense will flow through Brown. Brown is an elite WR1 and will be a starter in all formats.
Editor's note: When the Steelers allowed Mike Wallace to depart via free agency last offseason, it was clear they were very high on Brown. The decision may have been based on finances; however, teams don't allow one of their better players leave without a contingency plan or solid backup. Needless to say, Brown turned out to be more than just a backup. A more balanced offensive attack should increase efficiency and lead to longer drives with more first downs.
WR Markus Wheaton - Sleeper (undervalued)
There is a lot of buzz surrounding Markus Wheaton. The 2013 third round pick is a speedy receiver expected to win a starting job and help replace Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery's production. Wheaton could be the Steelers' second option and become a breakout wide receiver. He will be competing with veteran Lance Moore and rookie Martavis Bryant for targets. Reports out of Steelers camp are that Wheaton will win a starting job among the Steelers' lackluster receiving corps. Wheaton is still a virtual unknown, yet is predicted by many to have a big season thanks to his reliable hands and excellent opportunity. Wheaton is a flex or bench play with potential for more.
Editor's note: Wheaton is being drafted at WR56 with an 139.80 ADP. This would make him the fifth fantasy receiver on most teams in a standard 12-team league. The former Oregon State receiver, in this scenario, would be a 12th-round flier. Like most of the second-year receivers drafted after Round 10 (Justin Hunter, Kenny Stills and Aaron Dobson to name a few), Wheaton has far more upside than any rookie drafted this late.
WR Lance Moore - Deep-league Only
Lance Moore is coming off a very disappointing 2013 campaign, after a career-best 2012. Moore was forced to deal with injuries in 2013 and even when healthy he had a hard time finding his place in a very deep Saints receiving corps. What Moore does provide is a much-needed veteran presence, although that offers nothing to fantasy owners. He will likely be the Steelers' opening day slot receiver and that's a role he must hold onto given Pittsburgh's young and hungry receivers. Moore - now 30 years old - may have a few good games; however, he is not someone to count on on a regular basis. Deeper formats should stash him on their bench in case Markus Wheaton doesn't pan out immediately.
Editor's note: Forever the bridesmaid, Moore simply exchanges one good, but not great lineup for another. In doing so, he has a good QB in Ben Roethlisberger, who is certainly not as great as Drew Brees. Moore doesn't have to compete with Jimmy Graham any longer, yet he will play a supporting role to Antonio Brown. Moore is going undrafted according to our ADP numbers. While he enjoyed numerous moments of fantasy success in New Orleans, there was very little sustained success. Now 30 years old and left to collect dust on the waiver wire, only pursue Moore if there is negative news regarding Wheaton and Moore is officially named the Steelers' No. 2 receiver. For now, he is a very deep-league bench player who might be worth a look if the matchup is just right and you have no other options.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey - Not Draft Worthy
Darrius Heyward-Bey is still not draft worthy in any format. Do yourself a favor and don't even consider him. His speed is enchanting, yet time and time again, he under-performs and fails to live up to even the lowest expectations.
WR Martavis Bryant - Dynasty Only
Bryant, while teamed with former Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, combined for one of the best seasons by any tandem in ACC history. Bryant is a tall, lanky, big-play receiver who can challenge for receptions deep down the field. He set the ACC record for yards per catch (22.2). There were accusations that Bryant did not ever play up to his full potential in his college career. Luckily, he is a raw talent with better days and better coaching ahead of him. He is a must-draft player in dynasty leagues. Redraft owners should wait for him to secure a better spot on the depth chart, perhaps the No. 3 spot behind Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton.
TE Heath Miller - Bye Week Fill-in
Heath Miller won't wow you with huge numbers, but he is one of few familiar faces available to Ben Roethlisberger. Now in his 10th season, Miller's primary role is as an in-line blocker. That said, Miller's number may be called more often in order to take some pressure off of Antonio Brown to carry the passing game. Miller can be a very solid TE2 and serviceable to start if needed in case of bye week or injury. Miller's low breakout potential should push you to draft a different backup with a little more athleticism.
PK Shaun Suisham - Bye Week Fill-in
Shaun Suisham is a very accurate kicker, having converted over 90-percent in three of his four years in Pittsburgh. Heinz Field is a historically difficult place to kick. Suisham made 30-of-32 attempts and made all 39 extra point attempts. His long was 48 yards and his career long only 52 yards. Without those big field goals, he'll have to once again kick for a high percentage while not kicking any less. He very rarely even gets an attempt to kick 50-yarders, which really hurts his fantasy value. Suisham can be used if picked up off the waiver wire, although there will likely be a lot of better options when you come calling.
Pittsburgh - Quality Backup
The Steelers defense was not as strong in 2013 as we have all become accustomed. They did begin to play better late in the season. though. The Steel City is lacking a star power, especially under the age of 30. In the past, the Steelers would make stars out of linebackers they pick up off the scrap heap. They added former Defensive Payer of the Year James Harrison after he went undrafted and was cut multiple times. The Steelers opted to get younger and faster. They most notably added first round pick Ryan Shazier, a speedy athletic linebacker out of Ohio State that the Steelers hope can wreak havoc on opposing offenses. They also have a new look secondary, which is a huge question mark. Pitt also has questions at the tackle position and their ability to stop the run against power-running teams. Pittsburgh is an above-average DST2. They should be backups in most standard league formats.